“Feel the Pain, Don’t Eat It”
This is a non-fiction book that I found enlightening and helpful, with many truths in its pages.
Author Geneen Roth had fluctuated between severe food restriction and severe binge eating all her life. Her self-worth was tied up in her weight and shape, and her existence was a miserable yo-yo of dieting and shame. She went to therapy, learned about herself, studied mindfulness and meditation, taught and wrote, and slowly began to deal with her emotional pain by learning how to sit with it and feel it instead of eating to avoid it.
Her premise is that compulsive eaters use food to escape feeling emotional pain, and I think this theory is spot on. All addictions tend to be about difficulty coping directly with emotions, and eating disorders are no different. Ms. Roth holds workshops for women where they learn what feelings underlie their obsessions and compulsions with food.
Ms. Roth discusses the promise of diets, which simply don’t work:
“Diets are based on the unspoken fear that you are a madwoman, a food terrorist, a lunatic…The promise of a diet is not only that you will have a different body; it is that in having a different body, you will have a different life. If you hate yourself enough, you will love yourself. If you torture yourself enough, you will become a peaceful, relaxed human being.” (p. 77)
Can I get an amen? Why do we think that we need to be harshly self-critical in order to motivate us to change, when we all know that positive reinforcement works much better than punishment for behavioral change? We have some very messed up ideas about dieting in our culture.
Ms. Roth offers the “If Love Could Speak Instructions” as a counter to the resistance we feel to changing our eating habits:
“If love could speak to you about food, it would say, ‘Eat when you are hungry, sweetheart, because if you don’t, you won’t enjoy the taste of food. And why should you do anything you don’t enjoy?’ It would say, ‘Eat what your body wants, darling, otherwise you won’t feel so well, and why should you walk around feeling tired or depressed from what you put into your mouth?’ It would say ‘Stop eating when you’ve had enough, otherwise you will be uncomfortable, and why spend one minute in discomfort?’” (p. 168)
I love the compassion she implores us to feel for ourselves.
I’ve been wanting to practice mindful eating for some time now and I finally used her recommendation to eat without any distractions (e.g. THE COMPUTER!) for all three of my meals today. It was interesting to discover that I wasn’t as hungry for lunch after sitting at the table and eating my breakfast one-mindfully instead of wolfing it down while surfing the internet. How interesting! When I want to watch TV, read, or go online for my next meal, I’ll try to tell myself, “Eat without distractions, sweetheart, so you can enjoy your food more and feel when you’re full.” I’ll work on it one bite at a time. Thank you, Geneen Roth.